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Taiwan extends mandatory military service requirement from 4 months to 1 year

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Taiwan is extending its mandatory military service requirement from four months to one year. The decision follows months of increasing tensions with China. In a show of force, China this week sent more than 70 planes and seven ships toward the island nation. So is Taiwan ready for a possible invasion? Joining us now is Paul Huang, a research fellow at the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation. And just a note, there might be a slight delay in Paul's connection. Paul, why is Taiwan saying they need to extend their compulsory military service now?

PAUL HUANG: Well, the - China has been building its People's Liberation Army - in both quality and quantity term, have surpassed Taiwan in many areas. And military balance - or imbalance has been worrying for many years. And this extension on the military service, it was already - it was - before 2017, Taiwanese male had to serve one year. But in 2017, they changed it to four months. In the last few years, it was very apparent that, that four-month conscription was just not working.

The training quality and the experience that these conscripts were exposed to were just wholly inadequate, not just to something like modern warfare, like we've seen in Ukraine, but, like, not even in a traditional warfare sense. They were not being trained well. And in fact, during the - before it was changed to four months, during the one-year conscription period, I personally served in 2011, 2012. Back then, there were already many complaints and many criticism on the military service itself as being very outdated, training was subpar. And so this was...

MARTÍNEZ: Are eight more months going to make that much of a difference, Paul?

HUANG: Well, I think this is a basic step that should be taken. In our foundation's poll we released just over a week ago, we found 73% of the Taiwan public, they support extending the conscription from four months to one year. That inferred - our poll released - after our poll was released a few days, President Tsai and the government announced that they finally made this decision to move on with the changes. And, in fact, this decision was - has been widely anticipated and speculated or discussed for a number of years. And so I would describe them as having procrastinated on making this decision because most of the...

MARTÍNEZ: Well, I guess - like it should have been done a while ago. So I mean, what does this tell us then, you think, Paul, about Taiwan's view of the threat posed by China?

HUANG: Well, if you look at our poll, the support for extending conscription is across partisan line, across most demographic groups. So Taiwan public, a majority of Taiwan public, they understood that to defend this - to defend ourselves, they need to make some sacrifices and commitment. And that is something that the public support is there. But the government, the politicians in charge, they didn't seem to quite realize it. Or maybe for some reason, for their own political or electoral calculus, they wouldn't commit to it.

MARTÍNEZ: Paul, is the public support, Paul, across all age demographics?

HUANG: Yes. That's...

MARTÍNEZ: I'm wondering if young men, maybe, are as supportive.

HUANG: Right. So of all the age group, the only age group that does not have majority support for this was the one between 20 to 24, the youngest one. And then they are the only age group where - the opposing this extension, the number of people is slightly more than those supporting it. But as the announcement, we have seen, even this age group, they wouldn't be affected by the change because it only comes into effect in 2024. And only those born after 2005 would be required to serve one year.

MARTÍNEZ: Paul, really quick, 30 seconds left - how can the U.S. and maybe other countries keep China from attacking Taiwan? Is there anything that can be done?

HUANG: Well, we need to build our deterrence, maintain a credible deterrence, which by current situation, Taiwan's military, I think, is pretty inadequate in terms of organization, its training and leadership. And that is something the United States could push Taiwan, because the hardware, they provided. They sold to Taiwan. But those - the software and people, I think that's what counts.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. That's Paul Huang, research fellow at the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation. Paul, thank you.

HUANG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.